Host Aaron Alejandro and Dr. Mindy Brashears discuss the key role that agriculture plays in national security.
The National FFA Organization works to strengthen science and agricultural educational opportunities for students across the country. The Texas FFA Association and Texas FFA Foundation are the largest state organizations in the country.
On this episode of Growing Our Future Podcast, Aaron Alejandro introduces Dr. Mindy Brashears, Associate Vice President for research at Texas Tech University and former Under Secretary of Agriculture in Food Safety for the United States Department of Agriculture. Brashears’ extensive experience as an educator and policy-maker began in the high school agriculture classroom.
Food Security is National Security
When people ask Dr. Mindy Brashears to describe her work experience, she often says, “Did you eat during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic? Well, you’re welcome, because that was my job.” Brashears, Associate Vice President for Research and the Roth and Letch Family Endowed Chair of Food Safety at Texas Tech University, was serving as the Under Secretary of Agriculture in Food Safety in the USDA when COVID-19 began interfering with our nation’s supply chain in March and April of 2020.
“Workers in facilities started getting sick,” Brashears recalls. Capacity for beef and pork slaughter was quickly reduced by half. “This created a situation where the country could run out of food.” Brashears and her colleagues understood the gravity of the situation—food security, after all, is closely tied to national security. She needed to work quickly to avert the crisis.
Though the situation was unprecedented, Brashears was able to draw on her myriad skills. There was no guidebook,” she says. As Brashears coordinated testing and other risk-mitigation strategies like masking and barriers so workers could stay safe and facilities could remain open, her team “worked with the governor, the state commissioner of ag, and the local sheriff to make sure everyone was on the same page.” Ultimately, Brashears says, “you use your experiences…to make the most solid decision you can based on the information you have.”
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“Planting Seeds of Greatness”
Though Brashears is proud of the work she did as the highest-ranking food safety official in the country, she is glad to be back at Texas Tech, where she plays many roles. “My heart is for raising up the next generation of leaders in agriculture,” she says.
Brashears recalls sitting in her own high school agriculture classroom, where she was one of few girls. The skills she gained as a member of FFA–communication, critical thinking, and problem solving–have served Brashears throughout her impressive career. “You just never know what those little decisions that you make …where that’s going to lead you,” she says.
Brashears and Alejandro, who grew up on a farm and a ranch respectively, agree that while production is very important, there are many opportunities for young people interested in careers in agriculture, from meat science to product development and biotechnology. “We need leaders at home on the farm all the way to Washington D.C. influencing policy,” Brashears says.
Build Relationships, Reap Benefits
When it comes to leadership, Both Alejandro and Brashears emphasize the importance of a compelling agricultural narrative based on “truth and information”, according to Brashears. “We don’t just need a seat at the table, we need a voice at the table—and we need your voice at the table,” Alejandro says.
As such, Brashears urges aspiring agricultural leaders to hone their personal narratives as well. “Tell me something about yourself that is unique and different,” she says. This kind of interpersonal communication helps build relationships, a key “tool” in one’s toolbox. Finally, Brashears reminds listeners to base decisions on “data and science.”
Perhaps most importantly, Brashears’ leadership experience has taught her that integrity is paramount. “Make sure you treat people right”, she says. “Even if you don’t agree with them.
The Texas FFA Foundation’s purpose is to strengthen agricultural education and the Texas FFA program, so each student can develop their potential for personal growth, career success and leadership in a global marketplace.